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Planting seeds to shape the future

Conquest - Summer 2012

AT&T contributes $1 million 
to telesurgery program

Patti Montgomery shows silicone facial prosthetics to students
(from left) Andrés Zavala, Mario Quach, Zubin Colah and 
Dylan Smith.
Photo: John Everett

By Lindsey Garner

In March, the next generation of health care leaders witnessed the future of telemedicine in action: telesurgery.

Through the AT&T/Junior Achievement Worldwide Job Shadow Initiative, 30 students from the DeBakey High School for Health Professions and The Woodlands High School, both in the Houston area, visited 
MD Anderson to learn about a new telesurgery program funded by AT&T.

During the visit, AT&T presented a $1 million contribution to the institution’s telesurgery initiative. The program will become a platform to extend 
MD Anderson’s specialized surgical expertise to rural and underserved communities, with an emphasis on building new collaborations and developing mentoring programs that advance cancer surgery.

Learning by example

During the visit, MD Anderson faculty and leadership spoke to the students about their work, the education that prepared them for their careers and the future of medicine.

“High school was the seed for me to ultimately become a physician,” says Ronald DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. He encouraged the students to “work hard, focus and embrace knowledge.”

On department tours, students learned which job skills they need to be successful in various health care professions.

In the Head and Neck Center, they watched facial prosthetics being made. Patti Montgomery, an anaplastologist, showed them how a prosthesis is created just like a “piece of art” and is unique to each patient.

In addition to technical skills and training, students learned how important patient care skills are from Ivy Robinson, clinical supervisor in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

“Patients look to you to give them hope,” Robinson says.

Students watch a live telesurgery demonstration with a remote 
site in California, which Chris Holsinger, M.D., describes as 
"Playstation meets 'Grey's Anatomy.'"
Photo: John Everett

A plan of action

Led by Chris Holsinger, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, and Robert Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Section of Orthopedic Oncology, the telesurgery program will roll out in three phases during the next five years.

Phase one will involve pre-operative consultations between surgeons at 
MD Anderson’s campuses in the Texas Medical Center, Katy and Sugar Land. This will serve as a testing ground for telesurgery technologies and equipment.

In phase two, MD Anderson surgeons will coach, observe and teach other surgeons in the community.

During the last phase, MD Anderson surgeons will participate in distant surgeries, using robotic surgical instruments, and collaborating with surgical teams at other facilities. Holsinger has already coordinated several telementoring events during head and neck/thyroid procedures with surgeons in Brazil.

With AT&T’s support, both the telesurgery program and students have the potential to shape the future of surgical oncology at MD Anderson and beyond.

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